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By law, publicly traded companies have to disclose what their CEOs make. And soon, for the first time, those companies will also have to disclose how those salaries at the top compare to the median compensation level for all of their employees. It's a rule that was required by the Dodd-Frank financial law. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports the idea is to give company shareholders more context for how executives are paid.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Steven Seelig knows CEOs make many times more than the average worker.
STEVEN SEELIG: For any company out there, this number's going to be huge.
NOGUCHI: Seelig is senior regulatory advisor for Towers Watson, an executive compensation consultancy. He says he expects, on average, the ratio will be about 300 to 1.
Deborah Lifshey is managing director at Pearl Meyer, another compensation consultancy. She says most client companies are concerned about their workers' reactions when they find out how they fare relative to their peers.
DEBORAH LIFSHEY: They're not really concerned about the - what the pay ratio actually is. They're more concerned about what will happen, how the media will react, what it will do with this data and frankly, how their employee population will react.
NOGUCHI: If, for example, they find out that they're paid less than the median for their company or that a rival firm's median pay is higher. Of course, some of that information is already available. Companies such as PayScale and Glassdoor collect pay data submitted anonymously by employees, and Glassdoor this week released a list of companies with the biggest CEO-to-worker pay ratios based on its data. Discovery Communications topped the list at a nearly 2,000 to 1 ratio.
Andrew Chamberlain is Glassdoor's chief economist. He says, not surprisingly, many of the other companies topping the list are retailers, which employ a large number of low-wage workers. He says for retailers and restaurants, the ratio may not carry that much meaning.
ANDREW CHAMBERLAIN: Is that a good or a bad business model just because it leads to a high CEO pay ratio? If you ask an economist, they'll probably shrug.
NOGUCHI: But, he says, having that information may empower individuals in negotiations.
CHAMBERLAIN: Pay transparency does affect the way people bargain at their jobs, both at their current job and in future jobs.
NOGUCHI: Unions pushed for the median pay disclosure rule, arguing it will arm shareholders with more information when they vote on executive compensation.
Heather Slavkin Corzo is director of the AFL-CIO's Office of Investment.
HEATHER SLAVKIN CORZO: We can get a better understanding of the compensation practices and strategy that are in place at the companies in which we invest in.
NOGUCHI: But some say the new information could actually end up hurting workers by revealing how much rivals are spending on worker pay.
Roger Brossy is managing director of compensation consultancy Semler Brossy.
ROGER BROSSY: The unintended consequence could be things like companies recognizing that they actually have a more expensive labor force than somebody else and looking to push jobs offshore to cheaper labor markets.
NOGUCHI: Brossy says the rule is likely to face legal challenges. If it isn't blocked by the courts, the first corporate annual reports disclosing median worker pay information will be released starting in 2018. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
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